Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pro-Am Terrorism

From the latest emerging news on the terrorist suspects arrested on the weekend, it seems they were at best a bunch of amateurs. It's tempting (and the MSM seems to me to be pushing us in this direction) to think that this both reduces the magnitude of the crimes of which they stand accused and reduces the risk to the Canadian people.

I'm not convinced by either of these arguments. When I was in the military in the UK and facing a regular threat from the Provisional IRA we were very clear that we were dealing with an extremely effective and professional organization. PIRA terrorists were very, very good at their job. What they set out to do, they often succeeded in doing. Their attacks were precisely targeted, well planned and well executed.

While this made them a formidable enemy, it also made them somewhat predictable. The discipline that PIRA had within its ranks made it unlikely that renegade individuals would break out on their own to do unpredictable things. To some extent it made it possible to guard against attacks and to be sure that when an attack was foiled, things were safe for a while.

While it's tempting to think of a much looser, ill-disciplined network of amateurs as less effective, I think in many ways it's much more dangerous. Such a network, inspired by senior Al Quaeda figures rather than controlled by them, attracts all kinds of people. The lack of discipline leads to many potential loose cannons, and makes it more likely that there will be affiliated individuals not picked up in police operations. It's hard to predict what such a group might do, and the risk of their attacks ending up in the wrong places and hitting unintended targets is much greater.

Someone on the radio today referred to the 'franchising of terrorism' and I think this is a good description of what we're seeing. It's the difference between the local burger restaurant and the global reach of McDonald's.

Given the choice between the pro and the am of terrorism, I'd pick the professional enemy every time.